I wasn’t born with a mommy gene. In fact, I refused to babysit in high school when all my friends were making good money doing it. The thought of being responsible for a little kid didn’t appeal to me. There were too many other things I wanted to do, like make out with my boyfriend.
Nobody was more surprised than me when I ended up marrying a man who had two children. At first it terrified me. I was certain our relationship was doomed when his daughters initially ignored my attempts of reaching out to them. But soon things started to change. They liked that they could talk to me about “girl stuff”. Since this was my area of expertise, I had no problem discussing boys, hair, clothes, and other girly subjects. Finally, I’d hit a comfort zone of sorts with them. We were bonding.
I decided that I wasn’t too bad at this stepmother thing. I could actually relate to children. Maybe I should even have a kid of my own.
As it turns out, I was not as prepared for girl talk as I’d thought. Last Saturday, I was taking care of my younger stepdaughter Emma since her mother was out of town. We were playing around at the beach, when suddenly her eyes grew wide. She tapped my shoulder and whispered to me that she’d started her period for the very first time. When I asked if she was sure, she reached into her pants and produced a bloody finger as proof.
I almost fainted. This was happening on my watch? This was supposed to be her mother’s territory, not mine!
Apparently they don’t teach the birds and the bees at school anymore, since kids get all of their information from reliable sources like their pre-pubescent friends and the Interwebs. So it was up to me to explain what to use and how and why. (Let’s just say her friends were really wrong when they “educated” her on menstrual cycles.) Whatever happened to the classic after-school specials I watched growing up, with teary teenagers and understanding parents who could spell things out better than I could? Where was Judy Blume to explain what this was and how it would feel? I needed help.
I ran out to the pharmacy to search for the most kid-friendly pads I could find. All I had were tampons, which I sure as hell wasn’t giving to an 11 year-old. I was secretly hoping there’d be a box labeled “first time” with colorful flowers and heart-warming messages included. However, the best I could find was a standard box of Kotex. At least Kotex have been around for like 60 years. They couldn’t steer me wrong, could they?
“Are they all so uncomfortable?” Emma asked me as she emerged from the bathroom, an excruciating 10 minutes after I’d handed her a pad. She was walking with a slight limp, which made me wonder exactly what she’d done with it.
“Honey, do you know how to put one on?” I asked. Suddenly it dawned on me…she had no clue what she was doing, so I’d have to explain everything to her.
She looked down and shook her head, clearly embarrassed.
“It’s ok,” I reassured her. Or maybe I was reassuring me.
I grabbed a towel from the rack and pretended it was a pair of underwear. I proceeded to show her how to remove the strip and where to attach it. These pads were especially tricky since they had wings that wrapped around the edges. I think my poor stepdaughter had left the strip in place…no wonder she was walking around like a penguin, trying to keep her legs as close together as possible. The pad could drop down her pants at any moment.
I sent her back with a fresh pad and she emerged a couple of minutes later, a little more comfortable.
“It’s so…awkward,” she admitted, carefully walking so as not to disturb anything.
“You’ll get used to it,” I said trying to be encouraging. “It just takes some practice.”
“Thanks Kelly,” she said, giving me a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re here.”
I realized in that moment my stepdaughter was a lot more courageous than I was. She knew I was uncomfortable too, and so she wanted to make me feel better. For an eleven year-old, she was pretty sharp.
I still have so much to learn, and luckily, my stepdaughters are pretty good teachers.